Under the provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, smoke caused by bonfires may be a statutory nuisance and the council has powers to take action against those who create it or allow it to happen.
Private individuals are also able to take their own action by complaint to a magistrates court.
Case law has established that the concept of nuisance considers "reasonable expectation". So in general terms the occasional small garden bonfire burning dry wood/plant material may be acceptable, whilst burning of other household materials such as painted wood, plastics, furniture, mattresses etc would not.
Bonfires which are on land near to roads and causing an inconvenience or a danger to passers-by, can also be an offence under the Highways Act 1980.
It is often believed that there are "bonfire bylaws" controlling the time of day when you can light bonfires; this is not the case.
Making a complaint
If you have a complaint, it is best to discuss it initially with the person or organisation responsible. They may not realise they are causing a problem.
Try to be reasonable, otherwise your discussions are likely to end in further argument. Explain the details of your complaint and try to agree on a reasonable solution or compromise.
If the situation does not improve, then call the Environmental Protection Team on 01730 234360 or contact us online.
You will be required to complete log sheets detailing dates and times of bonfires.
A log sheet will be sent to you by the allocated officer and they will contact to discuss the complaint before the investigation is begun.
If the log sheets indicate that a statutory nuisance exists, the person responsible for the bonfires will be contacted and advised that an offence may be taking place.
If the bonfires persist, and evidence suggests that the bonfires are causing a statutory nuisance, a legal notice may be served. If found guilty of further offences by the Magistrates Court, a fine of up to £5000 may be imposed.
If the fire is only occasional it is unlikely to be considered to be a nuisance in law. Similarly, if you are being troubled by bonfires from different businesses, each only burning occasionally, a nuisance action would be difficult as there are several offenders.
It is possible that you may be able to take private action for nuisance from commercial bonfires if you can show to a court that you are being unreasonably disturbed. A nuisance can be described as ‘an adverse state of affairs which interferes with an individual’s use and enjoyment of his or her property’.
Alternatives to burning
These could include:
- trade refuse collection (for businesses).
The council also offers a garden waste collection service. Please visit the recycling and waste page for more details.
Domestic bonfire guidelines
If you have garden waste to dispose of, try and compost as much as possible. Consider using a shredding machine, which can reduce hardwood materials into mulch for use on your garden. The remainder can be taken to one of the household waste recycling centres.
If you must light a bonfire, ensure that the material to be burnt is dry. This will minimise the amount of smoke produced.
- Do not light a fire when the weather conditions might cause the smoke to travel into your neighbours' gardens or property.
- Remember that smoke will hang in the air on a damp, windless day and in the evening around sunset.
- Position any bonfire as far away from buildings as possible. Do not light a fire if the wind will carry the smoke over roads.
- Never leave a fire to smoulder - put it out with water or soil.
- Remember, heaps of garden refuse provide a haven for small animals such as hedgehogs. Check before you light.
- Take care to keep children away from a bonfire. Supervise burning as much as possible.
- Burn only dry plant/wood waste. Avoid burning any wood that is treated/painted or any other household waste.
Commercial bonfire guidelines
A commercial bonfire could be a bonfire on industrial premises, trade premises, demolition sites and land being used for commercial agriculture or horticulture purposes.
Commercial premises and builders should not use bonfires to dispose of any rubbish produced as a result of their operations. The only exception to this is the burning of diseased wood on site, which is permitted in certain cases.
Common complaints about commercial bonfires include the smoke and smell:
- stopping residents from enjoying their gardens
- stopping neighbours from opening windows orhanging washing out
- reducing visibility in the neighbourhood.
Dark smoke from commercial bonfires
It is an offence to cause or permit the emission of dark smoke from industrial or trade premises under the Clean Air Act 1993.
Under section 2 of the Clean Air Act 1993 we can prosecute if an emission of dark smoke has taken place. An offence under this section of the Act can result in a fine of up to £20,000.
Dark smoke is regarded as being particularly serious because it usually indicates that the material being burnt is giving rise to toxic pollution. To prevent this occurring we would advise you do not burn materials such as tyres, oil, plastics, any treated woods (including window frames), painted materials or chipboard.
Waste Management Licensing Regulations 1994 (as amended)
The burning of commercial waste may also be illegal under legislation including the Waste Management Licensing Regulations 1994.
This is enforced by the Environment Agency.
Waste produced during the course of normal business activity should be disposed of in an appropriate manner. Generally speaking, the Environment Agency prohibits the disposal of waste by bonfires on commercial sites.
If you believe a commercial premises is burning their waste, contact the Environment Agency's Pollution Incident line (24 hours) on 0800 807060.